3 Steps to Building a Fierce People Culture in Your Gym

Learn how to take the pulse of your gym and jump into building a fierce people culture.

Do you know what your gym’s biggest asset is?

If your answer was “your staff,” then you’re already on the right track to building a fierce people culture in your club.

If your staff wasn’t the first answer to pop into your head, that’s okay. “Like any resource, [a good people culture] takes planning, and then it takes execution,” says Emma Barry, who recently left her role as Equinox’s director group fitness programming to become an “observer and catalyst and mentor to people and projects in the fitness and lifestyle community.”

Barry, who will present about this topic during her Wednesday, March 21 IHRSA 2018 session, “Building a Fierce People Culture,” says many organizations struggle with building their people culture because they are not as attentive to staff needs and wants as they should be. If your team is not energized and excited to come to work, your members will know and it will result in a bad brand experience. However, if you have a happy and well-performing team, then your members will continue to come back.

Article image

Emma Barry backstage at a convention with the Les Mills group.

That’s just good business.

Before we jump into the steps of building your fierce people culture, let’s assess your current culture. Barry says answering the following questions will give you insight into your current people culture and let you know where there is room for improvement.

  1. What’s happening in the room when you’re not there? Is your staff passionately pushing forward the views and purpose of the business?
  2. Are your people excited to come to work?
  3. Are people often leaving? (Is there a high turnover rate?)
  4. Do team members join, stay, and contribute with passion?

“You can learn so much from your staff” - Emma Barry, Observer and Catalyst and mentor to people and projects in the fitness and lifestyle community

Now that you’ve been really honest with yourself, you should have an idea of your current people culture. So, let’s take a look at how you can make sure your club’s culture is a fierce one.

Step 1: Understand who you are and who you are not. Then hire for it!

To build a strong brand, you need to identify your purpose and what you are known for. If your club’s brand and mission is famous for friendly service, community-based support, and using pop culture-themed programming, then every single thing you do around your people proposition must deliver to that.

For example, you would want to hire the right people for all your positions. We’re not talking about skill sets—even though those are important too. We’re talking about personability. When interviewing candidates, Barry suggests focusing on how they interact with you and other members of your team. Do they give off a warm or friendly vibe? Or do they seem dismissive and cold?

Barry says you’d need “friendly” people all the way down to “the roots” if it’s part of your brand. Your front desk people, your administrative staff, and even the people cleaning your facilities need to exhibit the values of your brand. Any employee a member could interact with—at any time—needs to be able to deliver your brand’s experience.

“You can learn so much from your staff.”

Emma Barry

Fitness industry observer, catalyst, and mentor

She also stresses that no matter the position, you should always hire people that are better than you in their particular role. So, your sales team should be better at selling than you and your front desk staff might be more outgoing than you.

Step 2: Build your people proposition.

Map out your staff’s journey like you would a business plan. What is that experience like for your people? What are you looking for in team members? What attracts them to your business? If you hire them, how would they learn your product? When would they take breaks? When would they interact with your members?

You have to be really honest. “The formula is actually simple,” says Barry. “Sometimes, it’s the execution that’s difficult.”

You need to think about the employee’s full journey and understand each piece to match it up to their expectations. This includes figuring out how to show appreciation for a staff member who has been there for 25 years, and determining how an employee might feel upon leaving your company and how they may view your brand once they do.

As employees, we all want a little bit more, a little bit faster, and if we’re not happy we’re more likely to move on more quickly. Barry doesn’t think that’s a bad thing, though—in fact, she says it gets a bad rap.

“We are all a part of the millennial mindset,” says Barry.

People of all generations want their needs, and their wants met. If you understand your employees, like Apple and Google do, you’ll see that people want purpose over perks or sometimes pay. Of course, Barry isn’t saying your employees would accept “peanuts” for pay, but if you show them your business’ bigger purpose—excluding financial goals—then your employees will be more likely to stay with you. Think about offering promotional trackways and the freedom for your staff to express their talents.

Years ago, daily tasks were assigned based on what was written in someone’s job description. Barry says this is a phase we’re coming out of. If your employees wake up every day excited about their job, ready to contribute and use their strengths, it will only benefit your business.

Don’t spend time managing weaknesses, manage strengths, Barry says Let your staff do what they’re great at and happy doing. Don’t waste your time or theirs making someone into something they’re not. Play to their strengths, and let your employee’s strengths compliment each other.

Barry says, “We spend a lot of time trying to train and change people, rather than unleashing their greatness.”

Step 3: Understand your people.

You need to know what your employees value and how they can add to your business’ value.  Barry recommends incorporating your staff’s values into your business.

If you have a promising candidate who comes to you openly and says they love to travel, learn, and wants to grow in their position, don’t hold that against them.

Barry recommends bringing their values to your business instead. If you have an opportunity to send someone on a business trip, try sending the person who is enthusiastic about travel. You could even help them build this trip into their holiday schedule so they can take a couple of days vacation after the work travel is complete.

Likewise, if someone expresses interest in furthering their education and gaining more skills, you could send that employee to a conference or workshop, and then have them lead a lunch meeting to debrief the rest of your employees on what they learned.

Find the things you’re willing to deliver. People want to keep learning and growing, says Barry. Can you offer that? What kind of benefits, perks (weekly group workout, activities, flex time), and compensation could your company provide?

“We spend a lot of time trying to train and change people, rather than unleashing their greatness.”

Emma Barry

Fitness industry observer, catalyst, and mentor

It all comes down to listening.

People like to join communities, and as a club, you need to shift to embrace a community mindset. It’s no longer about a boss and their employees. Your business and staff is a community. So think about what you want that community to be. Barry says it’s vital to truly listen to input from your staff because they are your eyes, ears, and insight into how your members feel about your club’s community. Also, have a plan in place to execute the things they tell you. It’s a waste of time and resources if your staff have great ideas, but you never hear them or worse, you do listen to them, but nothing happens.

Create an environment where everyone’s contributions are welcome and then prioritize what you can do, Barry suggests. You can’t always do everything, but your staff needs to know that you listen to them and will consider taking steps to make their ideas a reality. People want to have a say in the business they’re working for.

Be sure to attend Barry’s session on “Building a Fierce People Culture” at IHRSA 2018 to learn more about the shifts and trends that are happening in the people business.

Learn more about IHRSA 2018, March 21-24 in San Diego.

Author avatar

Kaitlynn Anderson @IHRSA_Advocate

Kaitlynn Anderson is IHRSA's Digital Advocacy Content Coordinator. She uses her experience as a multimedia journalist to tell the story of IHRSA's advocacy and public policy efforts. Kaitlynn spends her free time watching sci-fi movies, boxing, or working towards her goal of being able to do five pull-ups (a skill that would come in handy in the event of a sci-fi-like apocalypse).